Apple Wireless Keyboard (hardware)
Issue: 9.4 (May/June 2011)
Author: Marc Zeedar
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Article Length (in bytes): 7,548
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IN BRIEF Product Apple Wireless Keyboard Manufacturer Apple Price $69 Contact Info http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC184LL/A Pros Small and light; beautiful and elegantly designed; nice typing feel; uses standard AA batteries; once paired, seems to maintain connection well; keyboard shortcuts and navigation supported; works with Macs as well as iPad. Cons Only pairs with one device at a time; pairing is not the most intuitive procedure and is a (minor) hassle; no home button on keyboard; an extra piece of equipment to carry; not the cheapest Bluetooth keyboard you can buy. Rating (1.0-5.0): 4.8
When I got my iPad a year ago I heard that it was compatible with Apple's Wireless keyboard, but I wasn't too interested. After three years with an iPhone, I was comfortable enough with a virtual keyboard, and I didn't like the idea of another piece of equipment to carry with me. It also seemed expensive, especially for something I wouldn't use often.
In the year since, I've pretty much given up on using the iPad for writing. I do a fair amount of typing on it, but it's mostly short emails. For those, the virtual keyboard is fine. For actual writing, there are two problems. The virtual keyboard is terrible for fiction that contains a lot of dialog because quotation marks are so difficult to access. I tried, but found the process so tedious it was physically painful. The second problem isn't the keyboard, but simply the challenge of selecting text, moving the text cursor, and cutting/pasting, all tasks regularly employed during editing and rewriting. Touch selection is slow and you don't have keyboard shortcuts.
Recently, however, for my trip to Atlanta, I decided to leave my laptop at home and just take my iPad. As I planned to do writing during my travels, I explored buying an external keyboard. I toyed with the idea of purchasing a keyboard-case combo, such as the one made by Zagg. But when I read a review that those keyboards are not full-size (by their nature such keyboard can't be larger than the iPad itself), I knew that wasn't the way to go (I intensely dislike netbook keyboards). So I purchased an Apple Wireless keyboard. I am astonished at the difference this keyboard makes. It solves virtually all input problems associated with an iPad.
The most significant difference (besides simply having physical keys to type) is the addition of arrow keys for navigation. This makes editing your text feasible, because you don't have to stop what you're doing and touch the screen. The keys work very similar to most Mac applications, so you can do things such as holding down the Shift key and moving the cursor with the arrows to extend or shrink the active selection. This allows you to be precise in your selection and is much easier than touching the screen and waiting for the virtual magnifying glass or drag handles to appear so you can position the cursor or selection precisely.
The arrow keys also support navigation shortcuts, so you can jump (or extend/contract the selection with the Shift key) by word or paragraph by holding down Option as you type the arrows. Command-arrows jump you to the start or end of lines or the top or bottom of the document.
Common Mac keyboard shortcuts also work, so you can use Command-C for copy, Command-V for paste, and even Command-A for "Select All." These are not documented, however; unlike a Mac, iOS has no visible menu system so there's no way to know which keyboard shortcuts will work.
There are also many handy programmed keys on the keyboard, such as keys for controlling the iPad's brightness, sound volume, and so on. My favorite special keys are the media playback buttons, which lets me play or pause music while typing or doing something else—very useful on the iPad! Of course, these same keys also work when the keyboard's connected to a Mac.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the keyboard are missing. For instance, working in Pages on iPad drove me nuts as I could find no way to navigate up or down by a whole page (screen) as the Page Up/Down shortcuts I'm used to on my MacBook didn't work at all (there I press an up/down arrow while holding down the Fn key). On the iPad I could jump to the beginning or end of the document, but within a long doc, if I wanted to go back several pages to see what I'd written or copy some text, I had to use my fingers and scroll. With the iPad precariously standing in Apple's iPad case, touching tends to knock it over, so that's not a good thing.
In general, having to take your hands off the keyboard to touch the iPad screen is the main limitation of the system. There is no home button on the keyboard, nor a way to move a cursor on the iPad's screen: therefore you must touch to switch apps. Depending on how your iPad is mounted or positioned, that can be a pain.
I haven't used the keyboard enough to gauge battery life, but I like that it uses easily replaceable AA batteries (you can always use rechargeables if you want to be environmentally friendly). That's much better than a built-in rechargeable that will suddenly stop working in the middle of the critical report you're finishing. The keyboard does sleep automatically when you stop typing, conserving battery life. I only turn it completely off when I'm not going to be using it for a while.
Initial setup is fairly easy (just hold the on/off button until the light blinks indicating it's in pairing mode and then select the keyboard on the iPad or computer where you want to use it), but I still think the whole pairing concept of Bluetooth devices is a hassle. Fortunately, you only have to do that once and after that it connects quickly and reliably.
The keyboard itself is wonderful for typing. It's pretty much the same as any recent Apple laptop or desktop keyboard, so if you don't like those, you won't like this one. I actually found it more comfortable than my MacBook keyboard (my most used), mostly because it's so light and portable.
Ultimately, while I'm very glad I bought this keyboard, I'm still uncertain just how much I will actually use it. When I'm at home, I have my MacBook, so typing on the iPad isn't a necessity. Firing up the external keyboard just to respond to an email or type a web URL isn't worth the trouble. I'd only use it for longer work and if I'm doing that, what advantages does the iPad have over my MacBook?
For traveling, though, if the keyboard means I can leave my laptop at home, it's worth it just for that use. I possibly could see myself taking it to a local Internet cafe to do some writing, but then I'm faced with the hassle of bringing along an extra device (I may explore iPad carrying cases that include a pocket for the external keyboard).
Still, for those handful of times when, for whatever reason, I want to use my iPad for writing, having an external keyboard is a Godsend and well worth the price.
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